8. Dec, 2019

Solo or buddy?

The two golden safety principles for scuba divers are  ‘never dive alone’ and ‘always stick to your buddy’.   Here,  I’d like to briefly comment on these principles, focusing in particular  on some  drawbacks of buddy and group diving,   and conditions that may  rather spoil than enhance  the safety and  the peace  of mind of individual recreational divers.

The principle of buddy diving  First,  and most important   is  that a buddy system can  only be fully effective  when the buddies stay close to another,  and are  familiar with basic rescue operations when one of the couple gets in trouble. This could be a lack of air, getting entangled in a fishing line, problems with controlling the BCD or safety sausage,  etc.  Staying close to another,  maintaining regular eye contact and communicating with hand signals  are the crucial conditions to increase safety  of diving with your buddy.   Bob  Halstead once defined it clearly as follows: the buddy system is the situation which occurs when two divers of similar interest and equal experience and ability share a dive, continuously monitoring each other throughout the entry, the dive and the exit, and remaining within such distance that they could render immediate assistance to each other if required.  Murky water, darkness or  a  strong current may even necessitate the use of buddy line:  a line or strap physically tethering two scuba divers together underwater to avoid separation

On  recreational diving trips the buddy system often serves  as an automatic safety rule,  imposed by dive operators responsible for the safety of the group.  For example, divers that travel alone  are often coupled to new buddies, often with different experience or diving skills. To guarantee  at least the theoretical possibility that  they may assist  another when an emergency situation turns up.  When a diver is not able to stay close to his buddy, he is likely to be told to stay with the group  guided by a dive master. The guided group is a excellent option when diving  in more  difficult conditions such as  low visibility, strong currents, or when exploring new and photogenic  diving locations. Here the dive master often plays a useful role in pointing out nice subjects to macro- and wide-angle  UW photographers.

Solo diving and UW photography.  Often a diver carrying a  camera, may be the  lone camera diver in the boat. He or she will often experience the situation of being  left behind by the pack, moving faster that the photographer. This is even more likely to occur during  a drift dive, or when a diving group  is moving relatively  fast along a reef  wall or sandy seafloor. Obviously,  with  low  visibility such a situation will unevitably lead to loss of  eye contact with the group. The reason is that the  group does not allow the individual diver to linger behind.  Let’s  face it, it takes patience to get good shots, which is terminally boring for a buddy especially when he/she is not making pictures underwater. Such situations may cause tension for the UW photographer and group, and will necessitate a solo ascent for the solo diver using the sausage to signal the dinghy operator at the end of the dive. 

These situations, of course,  are less likely  to occur during UW photography workshops, where divers share  a common interest  and diving tempo,  and dive operators are more lenient in applying the ‘stay with buddy or group’  rule.

In my 40 year of diving, my best solo-diving experiences are the occasions when I went out  on my own in the early morning in my dinghy, to visit diving locations in the Mediterranean. I always selected familiar sites,  good weather conditions and viz,  with little chance of being disturbed by diving groups. Three lines with snap-hooks hanging  from  the safely moored boat allowed me hook up my camera, diving rig, and weight belt after the dive. In line with these experiences,  I’d like to end with another  Halstead quote:  Safe diving, from my personal experience, involves avoiding other divers underwater as much as possible so that I will not be troubled by their mistakes and being totally self-sufficient, with redundant systems, so that if even I make a mistake I can easily recover*.

* Of course not ruling out the more pleasant and safe forms of group diving.


Francis, John (19 October 2006). "Buddy System Breakdown". Scuba diving. Retrieved 15 October 2017.

Halstead, Bob (September 1997). "Assume the risk and take the blame" (PDF). SPUMS Journal27 (3): 153–4. Retrieved 10 November 2017

Layton, Rick (15 July 2012). "When The Buddy System Fails". DAN Europe. Retrieved 15 October 201